The year is 1184 AD. A young boy is brought, unconscious, to a Benedictine monastery and wakes up with no memory of his past or identity. He is given a name: Xan, short for Alexander.

The Chronicles of Xan, a trilogy by Antony Barone Kolenc, does not only deliver the intrigue, and adventure that one would expects in adolescent historical fiction, but it does so with a real consciousness of the context of faith that was so prominent in the medieval world. The medieval monastery was one of the most influential and prolific sites in history, and Kolenc does an excellent job of conveying monastic life with realism and vigor. The trilogy balances unexpected peril with the regular and routine aspects of monastic life, thus avoiding a proclivity to either the fantastical or the mundane. And through it all, there is a sense that God is at work.

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The trilogy is partly an account of coming-of-age. The protagonist, Xan, begins his journey as a “blank slate” with no recollection or understanding of what is going on around him. But as the story progresses, he not only discovers his past, but he learns how to deal with the present and how to discern God’s will for his future. Along the way, he must struggle with issues that inevitably challenge the human person: the meaning of suffering and death, the importance of truth, and the need for courage even in daily life. The level of maturity that Xan has reached in the final pages of the third book is striking.

Each of the three books is centered on a particular mystery - about a deathly shadow, a haunted cathedral, and a stolen jewel. Xan helps to solve these mysteries with his friends: Brother Andrew, Sister Regina, Lucy, Josh, and others related to the monastery’s circle. It is refreshing to see that there is no really flat character - they each have their own voice, and they all have their own struggles. The three books are replete with twists and turns, which make for an action-packed story line. But there is also a great deal of subtlety, particularly in the way that the characters relate to one another and in the way that they relate to God, giving these books more depth than typical adolescent fiction.

Overall, the main reason that I would recommend this trilogy is its substance. It may have intrigue, it may have humor, and it may have bright characters. But above all it gives real insight into the way that faith must inform our lives - coloring the way that we see everything and affecting all of the choices that we make. As Sister Regina says, “God will be with us if we live in solitude or in the busy world. But He must be the ‘I Am’ in our lives.”

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for your adventure-loving tween, I wou ld absolutely recommend The Chronicles of Xan. It is valuable for any young person to see examples of real virtue and heroism, but it is equally important to see weakness, consequence, and true forgiveness. The Chonicles of Xan offers all of these.

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Copyright 2014, Sarah Blake